June 4, 2020 | Reading Time: < 1 minute
Whitewashing religious Democrats
Here are Senate Democrats kneeling in prayer as they honored today the memory of George Floyd with nine minutes of silence. I find this picture moving as well as instructive. It’s not supposed to exist. Democrats can’t exercise faith, because Democrats don’t have any faith, according to people like Dan Patrick, the lt. governor of…
Here are Senate Democrats kneeling in prayer as they honored today the memory of George Floyd with nine minutes of silence. I find this picture moving as well as instructive. It’s not supposed to exist.
Democrats can’t exercise faith, because Democrats don’t have any faith, according to people like Dan Patrick, the lt. governor of Texas. “We have a country where we’ve been working really hard, particularly on the left, to kick God out. We need a culture change to address this racism,” he said on Fox News.
This might be merely annoying if it weren’t taken so seriously by the press corps, and if the press corps did not overlook the fact that the Floyd protests have featured dozens if not hundreds of members of the clergy from an array of denominations, all of them seeking peace by way of justice for Floyd.
The whitewashing of faith is bad enough, but it’s the outcome that bothers me most. When the press corps adopts the Christian right’s framing—only they are the true believers—it not only bewilders people who can’t make heads or tails of evangelical support for Trump; it robs the left of moral authority.
I could be wrong, and I’d like your thoughts. Leave your comments below. Cheers! —John Stoehr
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
John, you are exactly right about this. The so called Evangelicals are a mixed bag at best. Many of them are reasonable people. The press seems to think that anybody labeled evangelical is a member of the right wing christian (not) moment. In my view Christians are people who try their best to follow the teachings of Jesus, especially in the 5th Chapter of the Matthew. Many who think of themselves as evangelical follow this road. Many who don’t want to be thought of as evangelicals follow this road as well. In my view people who rely on people like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell for guidance are misguided by these men and their minions. I could say more but will stop before this becomes even more of a rant. Thanks for your Editorial Board. –Jim Prevatt
Excellent take on the situation at hand, Mr. Prevatt.
I was just reading Anne Applebaum’s excellent piece in The Atlantic and then read your post. It made me think of the following passage…
My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse. When Marshal Philippe Pétain, the leader of collaborationist France, took over the Vichy government, he did so in the name of the restoration of a France that he believed had been lost. Pétain had been a fierce critic of the French Republic, and Instead of the “false idea of the natural equality of man,” he proposed bringing back “social hierarchy”—order, tradition, and religion. Instead of accepting modernity, Pétain sought to turn back the clock.
I LOVE the Atlantic. I bought a subscription last month after reading the top 10 most popular articles one day. All 10 were top notch so I immediately subscribed.
Funny you mention that because after reading the Applebaum piece I thought of doing the same. I’m more a scanner and less a reader, per se, but I just kept wanting to read more & more. Thanks for replying to my post & sharing your thoughts.
The writing is so good, you have to just go for it. $50 bucks a year, and there’s a large amount of grade-A+ content. I would recommend it. Rhe article from a few weeks ago “We Are Living in a Failed State” is the article that clinched it for me. I had to pay them their due after that.
Religion is a powerful force in the political discourse in the US. Framing that being right wing is the only way to be Christian in politics removes the political discourse from discussing policy to being more emotional and personal than it should be. Such insertion of religion in politics only leads to more sensationalism and fear mongering and further erodes the health of the political discourse and life in the US. People do not make the best decision when they are defensive about their religion and leads to biased decision making in the polls and elsewhere in public life. It gives right wing policies undeserved moral authority over the left which translates to votes.
This is spot on. And it’s another example of how a “might makes right” assumption gets smuggled into our national discourse. Many journalists implicitly treat mainstream Protestants as somehow less legitimate representatives of their faith because their numbers have declined relative to various evangelical camps, and because they are not comfortable with bullying assertions that they represent the true faith. They are seen, in some way, as the losers in the battle for who gets to define American Christianity (or at least American Protestantism). And, of course, Christians of color don’t count as much even if their numbers increase.
Republicans are blind if they say Democrats don’t have faith. What they mean to say obviously, that they do not have their faith. As you write and I agree with it, anyone who is watching these protests has seen the vast amount of religious figures who are using their faith to call for change in the wake of George Floyd. In a lot of ways, one could argue that Dan Patrick is hiding behind what he really feels with his issue with the democrats lacking faith as because of the fact that if he said what he believed outright, he would probably be called out for it. Also, religious words like faith obviously speak to voters emotionally and so if people are to believe Patrick in the idea that democrats don’t have faith, they are more likely to vote for republicans as ridiculous as it may sound to me or you.
The notion that religious belief is reserved for the political right is a naive and false assertion. However, I believe this narrative comes from the fact that right-wing politicians (such as those in the Trump administration) have substituted prayer for action in the past. After violent events, the current president is known to share his “thoughts and prayers” online which has angered those who want tangible change instead. But religion and political action do not have to be an either-or. Historically, religious figures have made a major political impact by endorsing candidates, meeting with administrations, or joining protests as they are right now.
Ms Crowell, as an atheist, I’m fully on board with your assertions; just as long as we don’t substitute faith for policy.
I completely agree with this. I think Trump’s recent photo-op at St. John’s Church in DC is another version of what you are saying: using a performative religious act instead of concrete positive action. I think in this instance and many others, these politicians may be using public prayers or religious action to rally their Christian right-wing audience perhaps as a way to reignite support after a mishandled crisis.
Before the first protest I attended in the Trump era – immigration – we’d been warned in advance that there might be provocateurs there. As I was walking up, I saw a man in a cassock and an Imam in a white robe and white skullcap from a distance. “Well, they’re not provocateurs,” I thought to myself, and of course, they weren’t.
I’ve been to four protests in the Trump era, and there’s always a strong, visible clerical presence. And believe it or not, no one was decked in military gear and carrying heavy weapons. Their moral strength was their only armor or arms. And the signs were about light in the darkness, love and grace, hope and faith, welcoming the stranger, caring for “the least of these,” instead of angry threats or celebrations of force.
Our Founders WERE deists, just not necessarily Evangelical Christians. They were also against the nationalization of ANY belief system; hence the Separation Clause.
This is great article and and an amazing site in general…
Did you happen upon this article at The Guardian? https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/03/donald-trump-church-photo-op-evangelicals
I SO agree with you. I am a person of faith, and belong to a very strong progressive interfaith organization called Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). We stand with immigrants, workers, and all people struggling for justice. From my perspective, the denominations of all faiths are on the side of justice. It is the non-affiliated churches that are often out of step with religious teachings, the churches that are organized around one or two pastors who may not even have religious training. Nancy Pelosi talks about her faith all the time, and people sneer. I can’t imagine how people of faith are not sickened by the way Trump behaves on Sundays, sending out angry tweets, watching TV, playing golf. He can’t even invoke one saying from either the Old or New Testament! His sinful behavior, hateful attitudes, dishonesty, not paying his debts, being hurtful to the poor, etc. I am so glad the Episcopal bishop and the Catholic Archbishop called his stunts “sacrilege.”
So true. To grossly oversimplify, religion reporting is about eyeballs, just like politics. Many people hate both politics and religion, the two topics not for polite company. Mix the holy with the profane and you have powerful elixir. So get a quote from Graham and an equally polarizing liberal, and you attract both the lovers and the haters, and gawkers as a bonus. Less light, for sure, but much more heat to drive story. Cut right to the same old conflicts, and forget background, nuance, common ground, third ways, new voices or viewpoints. The Rolodex is well-worn and very thin on religion reporting, at least in mass media. Sorry if this sounds irreverent – especially for a chaplain – but I’m a little emotionally raw right now. I recently saw a slow, public execution on the news.
There are thousands of religions across the world, so for many on the right to say that the problems in our country are attributed to the fact that there aren’t enough people that actively believe in the Christian God erases all of those religions who have their own sets of morals just like Christianity does. Also, there are so many Christian democrats and the argument that “because they don’t interpret the Bible the exact same way I do so that they have the same political beliefs as me, they must not have faith” is ridiculous. I agree with your use of the term “whitewashing of faith” because these arguments about religion also seem to completely erase the legacy and impact of black churches across the country. The argument that more religion will end racism also seems to ignore the fact that the Bible was used to justify racism and slavery, so clearly more Christianity is not the solution to the problem and there has to be actual change beyond just sending “thoughts and prayers” after every crisis. Unfortunately, as you said, the press continues to feed into the idea that religion and political affiliations are directly related and either makes it seem like religion is the solution to our problems or that it’s the cause of problems, when it really should not be so tied to politics to begin with.
The mainstream media continues its weakness in the face of right-wing evangelical bluster. Just as the media curls into a wimpy little “bothsiderism” ball every time conservatives scream about being “unfairly” covered, the media continuously allows these Christofascists to proclaim themselves as the only true Christians.
The media needs to get off its knees and hold these treasonous hypocrites accountable to the Word of God. I also think that true evangelicals and other Christians must become much more aggressive pointing out the anti-Christian tenants of these phonies. Otherwise, the arbiters of truth and morality will be left to those who are least equipped to speak about these things.
Mr Prayer, the only thing I can come up with, is “Bravo!”
After seeing Trump’s Bible photo op some folks had this reaction… “My mother started crying. She comes from Pentecostal background, and she started speaking in tongues. I haven’t heard her speak in tongues in years,” he said. “I thought, look at my president! He’s establishing the Lord’s kingdom in the world.” You can read the rest of the article here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/03/donald-trump-church-photo-op-evangelicals
I agree that it’s troubling how religion is framed as only being associated with the Republican Party, because it wholly excludes an entire facet of the Democratic experience. Perhaps, this perception is upheld because Republicans on the whole, are more religiously homogeneous, so their exercise of faith appears to be much more pronounced. On the other hand, Democrats are more splintered across ideological lines. In this way, their faith outreach is limited, and they have a harder time relying on religion as a tool to mobilize civil society. Pete Buttigeg’s campaign, however, has shown us that Democrats can incorporate more faith within their rhetoric to distinguish themselves from evangelicals and appeal to more voters. But they choose not to. And this choice to not openly embrace religious faith–if they have one–has come with a steep price. It has misled people like Dan Patrick, to generalize and spread fallaciously that all Democrats are completely isolated from these matters. I believe this widespread presumption will become increasingly problematic, as it will cause the Democratic party to lose traction with religious black voters, who have long been pivotal to their coalition.
I (atheist liberal) had a great conversation with one of my family members (Catholic liberal) this morning about religion and politics. Although they don’t align with many traditional Catholic beliefs, they definitely find lots of gratification and comfort within their religious practice. However, as both current and past political events have increasingly become more religiously charged, they have sometimes felt as though they have to choose either their religious or political beliefs, and can’t have both guiding their morals. Trump’s recent picture in front of an Episcopalian church he has visited once before has further created a public image that associates religious beliefs and politics that, for anyone who condemns his actions (not just Democrats), would consider insulting. For many people like my family member, religion is a big and impactful part of their lives, and framing it in a way where they feel as though they have to choose either politics or religion without feeling the guilt created by the leader of a supposed free country is completely contradictory.
There are many religions worldwide, so for people such as Dan Patrick to say “we need a culture change” ignores the importance of the other religions worldwide. Diversity is very important and I believe that the George Floyd protests have only weakened the beliefs that diversity across the nation and worldwide is irrelevant. A “culture change” would only brainwash the nation into believing that the only true faith is Christianity which is unfair to the many other religions. Correct me if I am wrong but this is the view that I hold.
I am an atheist but come from a strict evangelical background. My extended family on mother’s side are all pastors or teachers in the same synod, and I attended Christian school from k-12. This upbringing and subsequent life experiences have created an abhorrence for religion, particularly when it is applied to societal morals and policy. As a country, we are supposed to operate separate from the church, but that has not always been the reality and in the past 100 years has only worsened. I can’t speak too much on this, but the specific phrases “one nation under god” and “in god we trust” were adopted by the US under Republican President Eisenhower in response to the communist threat. This shows that it was never about faith but about politics. These phrases exclude anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the Christian God and therefore is oppressive. One to individuals of different faiths and cultures, but also oppressive to progress.
Personally, I would like to see a country that doesn’t need to depend on ancient myth to dictate how to behave. And it seems that the republicans are so upset because democrats are multireligious and thus don’t depend on one unified religion to form their party’s moral authority.
The problem for me is that this implies the only way to have moral authority is to be religious in some way. Everyone who is religious is good and moral? People who don’t believe in religion are bad and immoral? Horrific and immoral things have been done in the name of religion all through human history. People should be judged by their acts and how they treat others, not by whether or not they are religious. We really need a true separation between church and state, which we’ve never had.
“When the press corps adopts the Christian right’s framing—only they are the true believers—it not only bewilders people who can’t make heads or tails of evangelical support for Trump; it robs the left of moral authority.”
I am going to focus on the last part of that sentence, that the framing of the right’s monopoly on Christianity robs the left of moral authority. I don’t disagree with your likening of moral authority to Christianity, but I want to dig deeper into it. Can moral authority exist outside of Christianity? More specifically, are the values of our democracy legitimized by the moral authority of Christianity? And, to that end, what are the differences (if any) of the moral authority of the left and the moral authority of the civil rights movement? To return to your initial discussion of democrats praying in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, is it possible the left gains more moral authority when its elected leaders pray alongside notable black clergy?
More questions than answers from this post, but I look forward to discussing it in class.
Firstly, I find prayer to be a profoundly moving expression of reflection and introspection—when professed by those who genuinely uphold its tenants. It demonstrates a certain willingness to acknowledge errors and present oneself as remorseful. However, the most appropriate manifestation of faith is action; if Democrats are truly harnessing what they perceive as a “God-given” movement for justice, then they need to follow through on implementing policies to achieve that end. If they seek to highlight the seemingly undeniable contrast between Trump’s sinfulness and their piety, they should position themselves as fighting against the three pillars of injustice as Dr. King saw it: poverty, militarism, and marginalization. Action is the best form of contrition and fortunately, the proposed federal anti-lynching (promoted by Sens. Harris, Booker, and Scott) is a keen example.
What will be interesting to observe is how Trump’s base, predominantly White evangelicals, perceive his response to George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent national protests and whether that impacts their approval of President Trump. So far, White evangelical voters and clergy has been almost completely unwilling to ever condemn Trump—regardless of how ungodly his behavior is. White evangelicals rap themselves in the mercy of Christ and yet continue overwhelmingly supporting the least Godly man on planet earth. During the impeachment proceedings, when the very popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today (founded by Billy Graham) condemned Trump for his malfeasance, I had some hope that his support amongst evangelicals would diminish. It did somewhat, at least temporarily; however, Trump’s overwhelming support among evangelicals is rooted in the policies he has delivered for them (e.g., moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, attempting to defund Planned Parenthood, promoting ‘faith-based’ education, opposing transgender rights, etc…) rather than analysis of Trump’s moral inclinations. It seems as if the most recent round of criticism from elder televangelist Pat Robertson might again fall on deaf ears for the simple reality that the same constituents who berated Bill Clinton for his extramarital affairs, are themselves resigned to the fact that Trump has no moral conscience and thus really don’t care—so long as the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue upholds their policy demands. Assessing the near cultish level of following Trump has in evangelical communities is fascinating and deeply depressing at the same time.
To tie religion and politics together is quite an interesting discussion. When I saw the video of Donald Trump holding the Bible as a way to symbolize the connection between the two it was not so much a connection but an excuse for his misconduct. I myself who is a to an extent religious and a leftist understands that the way someone interprets the Bible is how how they see the world. Faith is in both the right and left it is a matter how it is interpreted.